by Anna Mroczkowski
One of the things I most admire about Janae Jones separate from her talent as a photographer is that she lets you discover for yourself what it is you want to know about her. She’s private, not secretive. There is a big difference. One trait is vastly more mature than the other. Janae is doing some photo work for a completely different AFA project, but after about 30 seconds of girl talk around my dining table, it was plain-as-day imperative to at least make a crack at getting more of her story and her artistic voice out. Turns out, all I had to do was ask. Now I’m in the peculiar position of sharing her desire to guard these details as well but it’s too inspiring not to share a little.
The brains of artists fascinate me and so do their stories. How did you become an artist and what kind of artist are you? Many have found art as a channel and process method to cope with everyday life but also to cope and heal from past trauma and hardship. Does an artist need trauma and hardship to be good and have something worthwhile to say? Nope. Not at all. However when I sit and think about the artists I’ve known with profound hardship or trauma in their pasts, one thing about the ones I admire most is consistent, they do not want their past (often paths that they as children had no authority over) to define them, or hinder them. So they don’t much talk about it to anyone. As children, they’ll cut a hole in their pillows to hide their journals from their cousins before they’ll let you know. Janae stands with quiet pride in this category.
If you grew up around things that weren’t right, you remember when it dawns on that your experience was different from other kids on a very extreme and painful level. You remember when you figure it out. Followed almost immediately by your brain automatically replaying memories at an uncontrollable pace connecting the dots of “did that really go on?” Memories like walking your little brother to school when you’re in fourth grade because your parent just wasn’t going to get up, having to clean up needles and dirty burned spoons and broken glass from people falling through your living room window. You remember doing what you’re “supposed” to be doing, but also you may remember a feeling in your gut that this wasn’t quite right though not sure how to understand it. It’s confusing. It feels normal and wrong at the same time. You’ll remember how hard it was that you’re Mom waited until she was dying of AIDS to tell you because she didn’t want you and your brothers to treat her differently. Another beauty that burns brightly in Janae is her compassion and the desire to protect her loved ones. It’s this ability to make peace with what is behind her without running from it that allows her to not be obstructed by it. Preserving the good in people without putting ourselves in harm’s way is in my opinion a very advanced ninja-level science and she has it in her. Forgiveness and letting go is one of the hardest parts especially for those who have daily reminders of how life is different or harder because of someone else’s choices. How do you tell a kid (or an adult) to let that go or not let it get in their way in life? I don’t know how, but I can tell you Janae’s story, or Rick’s story, or Samuel’s story or my story or…. I can tell you we make decisions in our hearts to live better one decision at a time, exchanging known certainty for whole-hearted faith.
These stories and hopefully the dialogue that comes from them are important. Important because there are youth in our city right now faced with similar choices and fork after endless fork where one path grooms you for destruction and the other path just to the next fork with often nothing and no one to guide you but yourself and we want to do better for the kids in our community.
You’re moving to New York next month. Tell me a little about why and what you’ll be doing and where you hope this move will take you?
Well for starters, I’ve lived in Seattle my entire life. I have traveled a bit here and there, but for the last 25 years I have been here. I turned 25 this past August and realized that I needed to make a decision. It was something that had been weighing on me most of 2012, but when I turned 25 I knew it was time for me to go. As far as what Seattle has to offer me regarding my creativity and what I want from life, I’ve reached the ceiling. I’ve met a ton of amazing people and have had some wonderful opportunities and experiences, but I know that there is so much more out there for me to learn from and experience. I want to see the world and NYC is that much closer to that. As far what I am doing when I move, I will be continuing to do the photography thing. Focus a lot more on the documentary aspect of photography that I fell in love with, but also continuing to follow the music if you will.
If you could give your younger self a piece of advice what would it be?
Saving is a great thing. I mean this in all aspects of life. Save time, save room, save money, save things. When I was younger, I had a bad habit of throwing away photos or deleting pictures that reminded me of things that I wanted to forget. Now that I am older, I really wish I had those photos! Everything is a learning experience though, good or bad.
Do you have any funny/embarrassing moments from a photo shoot that stick out in your mind? If so, what and what did it teach you?
Well this past summer I borrowed some lighting gear from a colleague for a shoot and in the shoot I didn’t stabilize one of the light stands because I was rushing and the light fell and shattered on the ground. I finished the shoot, but I was pretty shook. It took me a while to calm down and focus again which is essential when shooting, so I didn’t do as well as I would have normally. My client was happy, but the lighting situation wasn’t ideal. On top of that, the money that I made from that shoot I spent half of on light repairs. Talk about a bummer!
Do you prefer film or digital? why?
Film, hands down. The process is so meditative and being able to control how the image looks without the help of any technology is really rewarding. The math part of it is fun too, in that strange nerdy way. The art of film processing and getting the perfect roll and print is really a beautiful thing.
Who are the top 5 shows/artists that you have photographed?
Robyn, Janelle Monae, M.I.A., New Look, and Theophilus London. I loved Robyn the most though. I’ve been a fan of hers since “Show Me Love” back in ’97. It was during City Arts Fest in 2011 and I was in the photo pit smiling like the Cheshire cat and dancing like no one’s business. She probably was like who let this maniac in the photo pit?! I got great pictures of her though, haha.
Was there a show or a piece you did that was a turning point for you as a photographer? We touched on this for your senior show when most of the music scene saw you as photographer instead of friend.
I had a small photography exhibit at Cafe Paloma this time last year. It was a series of photos that I created based on the art of hiding. It was the first time that I realized that I was channeling my emotions into what I was working on. I am an incredibly private person when it comes to how I am actually feeling and only a certain few can tell how I am. I don’t really want to elaborate too much, but if you check out the series on my website you will kinda see what I am talking about.
You seem to make friends easily which seems to have played a positive role in you developing a professional network. What advice do you have for youth photographers on building their network?
Just be yourself. I know that is something that we are told since the beginning of our existence, but once you realize that you are all you have and you become comfortable with that socializing and networking and all that is easy. Some people are going to love you and some people won’t, but that doesn’t mean you as a person are inherently wrong or bad. Being honest with yourself and everyone you meet is a really attractive trait.
Do you have a dream subject or person to shoot? What about a collaboration? Who would you LOVE to work with?
This Swedish collective/band called iamamiwhoami. They are hands down the most inspiring thing that I have discovered in a long, long, time. If I had the opportunity to work with them I think I could maaaybe die after. Maybe
Janae knows how to be serene without having all the answers. Janae knows how to let herself feel intensely without fear because she knows whatever she can’t say with words, she can say with her photos. Is she perfect? Of course not but she is out of this world amazing. Her past doesn’t hinder or exclusively define her but rather is worn as quiet and honorable badge. Her warmth and compassion despite her experience remind me of the woman I named my daughter after. I’m kicking myself that I have only now just met her a couple months before she leaves the state but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. We wish you the most wonderful adventures in NYC and will be watching you soar with gigantic smiles on our faces.
For more information on Janae and how to work with her, check out her website.
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